RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — High oil prices paining U.S. consumers is a key topic of Vice President Dick Cheney's talks Friday with Saudi King Abdullah, yet it's unclear whether Cheney will ask the Saudis to increase production to bring down prices at the pump.
Cheney's advisers cautioned in advance of Friday's talks that oil was just one item on a long list of discussion topics which include Iran, Syria, Lebanon, protecting infrastructure against terror attacks and the vice president's visits this week to Iraq and Afghanistan. Cheney was to review with Saudi King Abdullah steps that consuming and producing nations can do, both in the short and long term, to stabilize the market.
"They will review a broad agenda of diplomatic and security issues as well as where we are now in the global energy market," Cheney's national security adviser, John Hannah, told reporters on board the vice president's plane as he flew from Oman to Saudi Arabia. "They will have ample discussions about the problems that exist in the market and how they might be solved," he added.
"And I am sure they will talk about the need for a cooperative way forward to try and stabilize this market, reduce volatility in the market and serve the interests of both consumers and producers alike," Hannah said.
During his trip to Saudi Arabia in January, President Bush urged the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to increase production, saying it was a mistake to have the economies of its largest customers slowing down as a result of higher energy prices.
The oil-producing nations ignored Bush's request. The White House said it disagreed with OPEC's decision to rebuff that request, and that the oil-producing nations themselves could be hurt by gas prices that are more than $3 a gallon.
In Iraq on Monday, Cheney had noted that there currently is very little spare capacity in the global oil market. He said the declining value of the U.S. dollar was putting upward pressure on oil prices as well as increasing demand for oil in China, India and in the oil producing nations themselves.
"You've got a situation in which we've seen the price of oil rise fairly dramatically in recent months, up now to over $100 a barrel," Cheney said. "But it reflects primarily the realities in the marketplace."
Earlier this week, Bush said his administration was "on top of the situation" in dealing with a slumping economy at home. Bush spoke on a day of turmoil and plunging prices on global financial markets. Oil prices had hit a record in Asian trading, U.S. stock index futures fell sharply and the dollar hit record lows.
Cheney was met at King Khaled International Airport by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. The two shared tea inside the airport before heading to the king's horse farm, a posh retreat on the outskirts of Riyadh.
The vice president, his wife, Lynne Cheney, and daughter, Liz, were greeted at the farm by the fragrant smell and smoke of burning oil, which is used for special events. Cheney and the king shared more tea and the vice president was given a King Abdul-Aziz green sash and certificate, the highest honor awarded to a deputy head of state.
Later, the Cheneys were taken to the stables on the working farm to see some the king's 500-some Arabians and thoroughbreds, both of which are bred for show and racing. The three sat in bright red chairs with gold trim and sipped drinks under chandeliers as the well-groomed horses were paraded by. When one Arabian filly wouldn't be led, Cheney quipped: "She doesn't like the press."
Hannah said that Bush had asked Cheney to return to Saudi Arabia to talk to King Abdullah about U.S.-Saudi issues and to do a comprehensive review of the situation in the Middle East. Cheney and the king were expected to talk about Pakistan, the longstanding defense relationship between the two nations and the cooperative work they are doing to secure facilities important to the global energy market.
Also on the agenda was the Bush administration's hope that Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations will do more to support rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Thursday in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai told Cheney that a well-known Saudi businessman and had been in Kabul the day before to check out the possibility of investing in the hotel business there.